The Times of Swaziland came close to being forced to close earlier this year after it published a report critical of King Mswati III.
This news has emerged from a recently published report looking at media freedom in Swaziland.
The Times was threatened with closure unless it published an apology after it reproduced a news report from an international news agency, Afrol.
The Afrol article (which can be read in full here) gave details of an International Monetary Fund report on Swaziland.
It said, ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family. The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’
Such open criticism of the king is not allowed in Swaziland (not even in so-called independent newspapers like the Times Sunday). On the Thursday (22 March 2007) following publication an ‘unreserved apology’ to the king was published on the front page of the Times of Swaziland (repeated in the following week’s Times Sunday). The apology signed by both the publisher and managing editor of the Times Group said the article ‘was disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny.’
It went on, ‘Our newspapers take great care with matters regarding the monarch, being conscious always of the unbreakable link of the King with the Nation. What occurred is reprehensible and we will renew our vigilance in editorial matters with the utmost vigour.’
To make absolutely certain that there was no doubt of the newspaper group’s subservience to the King, it finished the apology, ‘Once again your Majesty, our sincere and humble apologies.’
Now, a report from African Media Barometer, which is based on a workshop conducted with media experts in Swaziland, states that the Times was threatened with closure over the publication of the report. Details are sketchy, but the background to the incident appears to be that the publisher of the Times was summoned by Royal authorities and ordered to make the apology. Fearful of a demand to close the newspaper, he did as he was told
SWAZI MEDIA TOE THE LINE